HISD board passes $1.74B budget that includes magnet funding cuts

HOUSTON - Thanks to increased property values, Houston Independent School District has a $1.74 billion budget to work with for the 2014-15 school year.

School board members unanimously approved the budget, which is nearly 15 percent more than last year.

As a result, 99 percent of HISD campuses will have a bigger budget in the 2014-15 school year, restoring school funding levels back to where they were in 2011 before state budget cuts.

But it was a question of what to do with magnet school funding that kept board members at HISD headquarters late into Thursday evening.

A newly proposed magnet funding formula, which ultimately passed 5-4, drew fierce opposition.

Dozens of magnet students and their parents from schools like Kolter Elementary, Harvard Elementary and TH Rogers pleaded with board members not to use money from their schools to fund similar programs at other HISD schools.

"You can get equity without necessarily robbing Peter to pay Paul," said parent Leah Oberlin, who moved to Houston from Florida so her daughter could attend Carnegie Vanguard. "These aren't just magnet schools, they're magnetic. Why would you cut funding in one of your highest performing schools?  It's just illogical."

"Under the (newly adopted) plan, magnet programs will now receive a set amount of money per student, based on their magnet theme and school level. The funding structure will be phased in over the next three years, allowing schools adequate time to plan for any changes in funding," a district statement read.

The funding cut was masked by an $86 per-pupil increase in school spending. HISD decided to use $13.8 million originally proposed to pay down its debt to instead pay for the majority of the per-pupil increase. That means only TH Rogers will begin next school year with less money than it had the year before. The loss amounts to an expected loss of three teachers.

"It's not a total scarcity of resources that the only way to pay for a magnet student at one school is to take away from a magnet student at another school," said TH Rogers parent Mustafa Ebrahim.

By the 2016-17 school year four magnet and Vanguard schools will have sacrificed funds. 

Also Thursday, board members took a step toward being more competitive with other area school districts in the fight to hire new teachers.

HISD voted to increase the salaries of first-year teachers from $46,805 to $49,100 in 2014-15 and $50,000 in 2015-16.  All school staff, including principals and vice principals, will also receive a 3 percent salary increase.

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